It is and it isn’t Ascension today. That would’ve technically been May 1, really. But apparently in the Archdiocese of Washington today is Ascension Sunday.
We ride our bikes to church, so we arrive a good twenty minutes early. The 8:30 Mass is still filing out. I ask an usher about this, and he explains that there was a speaker after the Mass. Is why it seems to have run so late. I dash downstairs to use the restroom and notice a poster for the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation. Probably a speaker from/for them. We’ll likely hear him/her as well.
Back upstairs in our pew I get settled, kneeling and trying to pray. But there are still tourists from the earlier Mass wandering around and taking pictures. Seems like nowadays we’ve all got cameras, are always taking pictures, what with the digital cameras now. I’m as guilty as the rest, I suppose.
Bill Culverhouse sings an astonishing piece from Messiah, I’m not sure which piece. Thou art gone up on high; Thou hast led captivity captive, I think. But he’s in fine, wonderful voice this morning, and it’s a little lower than his usual tenor register. As I said, it’s wonderful, except for the tourists still puttering about.
The entrance hymn is A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing. I think we sang this as the closing hymn last week. But it’s totally an Ascension song. I get all excited with the third stanza, knowing the reading that we’ll get getting today.
To whom the shining angels cry,
“Why stand and gaze upon the sky?”
Oh, yeah. That’s right. We’re getting the “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” One of my total favorites.
The hymn’s tune is Lasst uns erfreuen, which Babelfish tells me means “Leave to us a pleasing” in German. I still don’t really get it. It’s an old, old tune, according to ChoralWiki. Written I guess by Peter von Brachel in 1623, although they seem also to credit it to Ralph Vaughan Williams, apparently because of his 1906 harmony thereto. I’m not sure how that works.
I should really ask Bill Culverhouse about these things. I would if I knew him better. But now he’s leaving us anyway. In June I think.
The readings today are interesting bookends, in a way. The first reading is from the very beginning of Acts. And the Gospel reading is, as Deacon Work announces it, from the conclusion of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. It’d match up even better if the Gospel were from St. Luke. Maybe they do that in other years.
And sure enough, of course, Acts begins with the Ascension of our Lord. Whoosh he goes up in a cloud, and the apostles stand there like dummies looking up at the sky.
While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going,
suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them.
They said, “Men of Galilee,
why are you standing there looking at the sky?
This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven
will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
I’m sure I’ve mentioned before how much I love this passage, this exhortation to get to work down here while we’re waiting for him to return. Let’s get it right, people!
The Gospel reading itself is amazing in its own way.
The eleven disciples went to Galilee,
to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.
When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.
Can you imagine? It sure makes me feel a whole lot better, about my own moments of weakness and doubt. Here are Christ’s very own apostles, who have been with him for however long, who have personally witnessed the miracles. Who have seen him crucified and return from & conquer death. And yet they still doubt. Amazing.
And we do get the dude from the HCEF talking to us after Mass. I’m a little troubled by him, actually. While it sounds like they do good work, with the kids and the educational scholarships and all, I find his/their focus on ensuring a continuing Christian presence in the Holy Land a little disturbing. It’s a bit Crusade-y for my tastes.
The recessional hymn is Go Make of All Disciples. The tune is Ellacombe. I really don’t know and haven’t figured out what that one means. But I do learn that there’s something called an Ellacombe apparatus, something that aids in church bell ringing. And, in one of those little details that makes Wikipedia so great, it says that said apparatus was invented to deal with unruly bell ringers. Who knew they were such trouble.